We thought we would take a bus somewhere and go for an exploratory walk wherever we decided to get off. On the way to the bus stop, we noticed that there seemed to be a lot of smoke in the air (even for London) and a smell of burning rubber.
The culprit turned out to be this car which was belching evil-smelling smoke. The driver surely cannot have been unaware that there was something wrong.
We took the 394, which is a small bus, a single-decker with only one door – unusual for London. From the Angel it follows what seems a strange and erratic course with many turns, travelling along narrow streets, often between tower blocks. We got out in Hoxton Street.
Hoxton is a district or parish that is today part of the Borough of Hackney. The name is first recorded in Domesday Book as Hogesdon, suggesting that it comes from the name of a farm (“tun”) owned by someone called Hoc, or similar.
Hoxton Street is a fairly typical nondescript outer London high street, with businesses and shop fronts dating from many periods but it does possess a market and a few rather interesting buildings.
It also has a very pretty community garden, though this was unfortunately locked shut and could be photographed only from outside. The clock was apparently salvaged from the Eastern Hospital in Homerton when it was demolished in the early 1980s. The hospital had previously been the Eastern Fever and Small Pox Hospital, but was originally a City of London Union Workhouse, which brings us neatly to the next major feature of Hoxton Street.
That feature is this building, carrying the name “St Leonard’s Shoreditch” and describing itself as “Offices for the Relief of the Poor”, which was in fact a workhouse, founded in 1863. I believe the upper two floors were added at a later date.
Above the door and the deeply carved numeral “1863”, is a beautifully modelled moulding incorporating a curious two-bodied lion wearing a pensive expression on its face.
We discovered what might be considered to jewel in the collection right at the beginning of our walk. This was Hoxton Hall. Its modest exterior suggests its age but without giving away the building’s purpose. We went in for a look and were fortunate to be allowed to look around. (The photos are a little dark because of the low lighting.)
Hoxton Hall is in fact a remarkable survival of a galleried music hall. It was built in 1863, not by James MacDonald as is often mistakenly stated, but by James Mortimer, who intended it to be a place of entertainment and instruction for local people. Unfortunately, he did not succeed and by 1865, the premises were being used by a waste paper merchant.
It was in 1866 that James MacDonald came upon the scene. He bought the hall and, coming as he did from the Collins Music Hall in Islington, made the theatre thrive. Unfortunately, he too was forced to close down when, because of a police complaint, he was deprived of his licence in 1871.
In 1879, the Hall was taken over by William Noble’s Blue Ribbon gospel temperance movement, imported from the US the year before. This movement in turn ran out of steam in the early 1890s and on the death of W.I. Palmer who had bought the Hall for the Blue Ribbon, ownership passed to a Quaker organization, the Bedford Institute Association, devoted to work among the poor. It is to the Quakers that we owe the preservation of this interesting historical site.
Hoxton Hall became the headquarters of the Bedford Institute Association until the middle 1970s when it was taken over by the charity Hoxton Hall Friends and Neighbourhood Centre, in whose care it was able to return to its original theatrical role. Today, Hoxton Hall is a centre for youth arts.
From here, we continued walking down towards Shoreditch, discovering a colourful example of public art. (It reminded me irresistibly of the many late medieval representations of the Dance of Death or Danse Macabre. But perhaps that was because I was tired and my back was beginning to ache…)
Along the way, we discovered other interesting sights, including some intriguing remnants of times past.
For example, we crossed a calm Regent’s Canal which would once have been a lot less calm and a lot busier to judge by the nearby buildings, such as this warehouse or factory belonging to Thos Briggs.
The building to the left is a representative of another feature of this area: high-rise blocks of flats.
What is now a pleasant little park called Rosemary Gardens, has this clue to its past on the gateway: a doorbell – or perhaps bell-pull – labelled “FACTORY”.
If you walk along the cobbled path (no doubt once the vehicle entrance to the factory yard) you come to what looks like the remains of an old weigh bridge. I wonder when this last weighed a load.
We stopped for a word with one of the natives but he was too busy to chat. I can understand why: this is a very mixed area and there is a lot to see and think about. We shall need to come back for another look one of these days.